RENDEZVOUS: Interview with Dr. Jagdish Chaturvedi- a doctor, a stand-up comedian, an author, an actor, an entrepreneur and a lot of other things in the world to bring out your deep-rooted insecurities.
Tell us a little bit about where it all started? No, not the big bang theory. Your life.
I grew up in Bangalore, did my MBBS from Sidhartha medical college, Tumkur. And then I did a fellowship in Innovations from an organisation called Stanford India biodesign- Stanford University in collaboration with AIIMS, New Delhi, and IIT Delhi. And then I did an MBA in entrepreneurship in hospital management from National Institute of business studies. After that, I’ve done some surgical Fellowships here and there because I’m primarily a nose and sinus surgeon and moving towards minimally invasive surgery. So I have spent some time doing rhinology fellowships with some doctors in India as well as abroad, but yeah, that’s about it.
When did the stint with comedy begin?
Stint with comedy has always been there. It’s just been there in different formats. Comedy started with our theatre club at school, I got into it very early. Maybe when I was 7 or 8 and used to be a part of plays, mostly comedy because I was the funny kid in the class – never listening to anyone kind of a thing. And then I was a part of many theatre groups in Bangalore. Bangalore has a very good theatre culture, and when I was in St. John’s, I got to do a lot of plays. Almost every month there would be some occasion where you would do a play on their massive stage.
So theatre has been there completely throughout and comedy has been the thing that I was doing until 2015. But I was really struggling to find time to come to rehearsals for the plays there because of my clinical commitments. Because, earlier, in college, I had a fixed structure in schedule to work around my theatre rehearsals, but when I switched to Private Practice – I was not really able to always be there and that impacted our creative team because you’re too many people involved for a very long period of time. So I started being labelled as that actor who would not show up and then they can’t really do much about the reasons because patients are involved.
I started looking for other ways to do comedy. I move to smaller play formats. They started doing 20-minute plays, one-act plays and I even did a One-minute Play Festival, but everything required a director, other artists, some rehearsal, stage, backstage, etc. Nothing was taking away the teamwork requirement.
Around 2015, stand-up comedy was picking up, there were few comedians who were very popular and it started becoming an acceptable art form. I was directing a female stand-up comedian, Sneha, at that time, and she took me to my first open mic where I tried out stand-up comedy. And I remember wearing a belt around my forehead saying that everything I say will be under the belt or something like that, that kind of thing. But then, I realised that this format is a bit different. So that’s how stand-up comedy happened. It is easier for me to do even though it’s not my first choice. I would go back to the theatre if I could. Any day. But with stand-up comedy, I’m more easily able to balance my clinical work because I don’t really need to rehearse with anyone. It’s just my me-time. I get on stage, I perform, I go back.
What brings comedy to something as serious as medicine?
It’s everywhere. See, comedy is just a perspective. I mean, you can find humour in anything. If you look at it with that lens, medicine is serious, but when people are serious and situations are serious, it also brings about a lot of irony, a lot of dark humour and sometimes very blatant slapstick comedy as well. So I think there is humour in everything. To specifically answer the humour in medicine, I think, you know, there are always some patients and funny questions that they ask. They don’t know it’s funny. For them it’s a serious thing. But you know, if it is presented in a particular way, it might appear funny.
Like for example, I once got a call from a patient frantically, telling me that “Doctor! I got the second dose of the vaccine, but I haven’t taken the first dose yet”. And it sounds funny. You know, of course, that every dose you get is the same composition, but think from the patient’s perspective! It was a second dose camp and the patient did not know. So it’s a very valid concern, but there is humour in it that you can present and you can exaggerate. I think you need to bring a little bit of humour around serious situations. It works personally for me as well to de-stress, but also for people to look at the same situation in a lighter note, and that’s how I think medicine and humour get along.
Is this just a hobby, a passion or an alternate profession?
I personally believe that the work you do and you enjoy shouldn’t feel like work at all. I completely enjoy whatever I’m doing. Everything that I do is what I enjoy and it is only these logistical things – which I feel I shouldn’t be doing – that’s what I outsource. So comedy has picked up quite a bit for me, and it can be concluded that it is an alternate profession because of the number of people involved in my comedy career. I have an entire event team and maybe five or six people who manage various aspects of it. So, it is like a small organisation in itself, you know, and the volume of shows that I do are also fairly decent, sometimes even more than the number of surgeries that I do, but I do about 15 to 20 shows a month, then probably operate about 30 to 50 cases in the next month.
So it is quite, you know, equally time and effort intensive. So yeah, I think it started off as a hobby and now it’s become a profession and now it’s also becoming an entity to provide jobs or learning opportunities for a team that helps me.
What about the role your family played and their reaction to your career?
So I’ve been doing this for so long. Being in plays while studying in school, being in plays while doing college, being in plays while doing masters in ENT and doing plays while practising. So it’s not like it was a sudden change at that. This was something I was always doing and I’ve just started a new thing in standup. So for people who know me – my family members – that is like 38 years of my life, right? So for them, it was not like a reaction to what I was doing. Yeah, of course during school board exams there was that bit of period where from my teachers, there was pressure to stop doing these things and focus more on studies. My dad was a psychiatrist and he realised that when I would stop doing theatre or comedy or plays, my performance would actually worsen both academically and as a human being. So he’s completely fine and my family members were totally fine with me going into stand up comedy.
Can you tell us any funny OT stories or college/ hostel stories?
I would suggest that all of these stories are there to enjoy in a very entertaining format in this web series called Starting Troubles, which is based on my book and my experiences. So to experience those please watch the web series starting troubles on Buddy bits on YouTube.
You now have a lot of degrees. Have you reached somewhere good and happy?
It’s all good. After you do your MBBS and Masters and all of that, I think the degrees alone don’t get you to someplace good. It’s because of the experiences and my ability to keep trying, regardless of not always being successful in the first shot or feeling or making mistakes or being criticised. I know many, many doctors who have the best of degrees from the best of colleges and currently not having any work to do and are demotivated and struggling. And I think the reason is that he/she did not spend much time in the clinical scenarios and I see that happening a lot with the amount of years that one just sits and studies instead and gets into colleges and gets degrees. But I think that practical experience is what actually gets you to some place.
Do you have any tips for budding comedians who think they are funny?
The interesting thing about being funny is that it’s not you who decides that. It’s the people around who decide, and there is an audience for everyone. So you may have a style of jokes or you may have a style of humour, but if people around you don’t like it there, my advice would be to continue doing it till you start understanding who are the kind of people that like your joke. There’s an audience for everyone. Sometimes it may be a small number. While you get more and more experience in this, you start understanding how you can tweak your own jokes to make it suit more people, but when you’re starting off, my advice is, if other people around, don’t think you’re funny, then find people who think you’re funny and but don’t stop doing jokes.
Let’s get to a very short rapid fire.
Do you like medicine or comedy?
Medicine or surgery?
Kangana Ranaut or Hrithik Roshan?
Kangana of course. She is very entertaining.
Interviewing journalist- Nishitha Bujala, Hyderabad (Okay fine I’m not a journalist. I’m a medical student but Dr. Jagdish just proved that you can be anything and everything you want to be. So, well.)